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Speaking through his art; boy uses gift to give back

<i>KRIS via CNN Newsource</i><br/>For Autism Awareness Month
Willingham, James
KRIS via CNN Newsource
For Autism Awareness Month

By Taylor Alanis

Click here for updates on this story

    CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (KRIS) — For Autism Awareness Month, a Corpus Christi 12-year-old is using sales from his business to give back to children with sensory sensitivity.

On a Tuesday evening, Giovanni Saenz could often be found at his favorite place, the Ice Cream Bar in Flour Bluff.

Creative and sometimes quiet, Gio is on the autism spectrum.

Among playing musical instruments and skateboarding, another one of his many talents is painting.

“Giovanni started painting when my mom passed away,” Reena Rose Saenz, Gio’s mom, said.

Reena said not only was Gio coping with the sudden loss of his grandma, but he was also being bullied in school.

“He got so overwhelmed and I already got a couple of calls that day from school,” Reena said.

To calm and distract him, Reena asked Gio to paint something for his grandma’s grave.

“He had actually done some butterfly things and that was actually the first time that I’d known that he was capable of such beautiful things with just paint and a board,” Reena said.

His talent didn’t go unnoticed, Gio was invited to sell his boards, door hangers and yard signs at a church vendor market.

“His art just blew up out there like people were asking for certain things,” Reena said.

Now, he has customers from all over the state.

“He comes all the way from Austin,” Reena said about one of Gio’s customers.

Reena said Gio struggled with speech for many years and was still working on using his left arm.

“We’ve come a long way,” Reena said.

She said his business is also a form of speech therapy.

“In order to sell it, he had to talk about his product,” Reena said. “He has to talk about it. So it helps him. It helps him because that was one of our biggest struggles.”

Gio also makes sensory-friendly necklaces. He used to chew on his shirt and fidget, so his mom thought the necklaces would be a good idea.

“They’re nickel-free, and they’re silicone-beaded,” Reena said.

One person Gio isn’t worried about approaching is a family friend and owner of the Ice Cream Bar, Tiffany Wood.

“He asked me if I could sell some stuff in my shop, and I was like, ‘absolutely,’” Wood said. “I mean, we’re happy to help support.”

The money from April’s sales will go towards buying 25 special swings for kids with sensory issues.

“It’s basically like a pod,” Reena said. “It gives you that self-soothing, that calming because you’re wrapped up.”

“You know that’s really special,” Wood said. “He’s a great kid. He really is.”

During Gio’s interview with KRIS 6 News Anchor Taylor Alanis, Ice Cream Bar customer David Jenkins donated $100.

“I buy an ice cream here at the ice cream shop for my daughter, and I see his letter here and I’m blessed to be able to donate,” Jenkins said.

With the stroke of a brush Gio has painted and created his way into people’s hearts.

“He likes to spread the word,” Wood said.

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